'You Will Not Have My Hate' Author On Losing His Wife In Paris Terror Attacks
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
About a year ago, Antoine Leiris was sitting at home, reading a novel. Then he started getting text messages from friends. Is everything OK? Leiris lives in Paris. And it was November 13, 2015, the night of the terrorist attacks there. His wife, Helene, had gone to the Bataclan concert hall to see a show, leaving him at home alone with their young son Melvil. Helene was among 90 people killed at the Bataclan. Leiris talked to my co-host Kelly McEvers this week.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
A few days later, Antoine Leiris wrote a Facebook post that went viral. And now he has published a book based on that post. It's called "You Will Not Have My Hate." It's about the days after his wife died and what it was like to become a single parent. It starts with that night. At first, he couldn't leave the baby alone. But then he drove around, looking for his wife.
ANTOINE LEIRIS: I was just looking for her. But really I think at the time, the important was to move, just not to feel useless. And you're alone. You're afraid. So you have to do something. And we go to every hospital of Paris in the suburb to ask if she was there. And she was not.
MCEVERS: Right. You stayed out until the morning, yeah?
LEIRIS: Yeah, until 7 a.m. - and I clearly remember that moment because, you know, that night and searching for her, I was the lover. And at 7:30, Melvil will wake up.
MCEVERS: You say Melvil - that's your son.
LEIRIS: I wanted, at the time, give him his (unintelligible) because it was important. If I have to be for the rest of my life a single father, I have to be it the first day, the first time.
MCEVERS: Wow. So you - I think what you're saying is that night you were a lover, and then in the morning, you had to be a father.
LEIRIS: Yeah, exactly.
MCEVERS: And of course you found out the news about your wife. And then a few days later - it was just a few days later I think that you sat down and started writing. Or was it the next day?
LEIRIS: It was the Monday after the attack and just after seeing her at the morgue.
MCEVERS: After seeing her at the morgue.
MCEVERS: And you describe it as just that - the words just kind of were coming out of you.
LEIRIS: Yeah, exactly - and because it was - I don't know a very particular time because I spent two days thinking of her and searching for her and, you know, felt guilty about letting her alone in the night...
LEIRIS: ...In the two nights. So when I saw her so beautiful that day - I don't know. It's changed the way I think about this event because I finally found her that day.
MCEVERS: And so Antoine Leiris sat down and wrote a letter to the terrorists saying, you will not have my hate. You will not have my sons hate. We asked him to read it, but he says he wants people to read the words themselves. He says he had no idea the essay would be read and shared by so many people.
LEIRIS: At the beginning, it was a message only for my family and for my friends. It was to tell them, you know, what will I choose for Melvil and I. And it was only about that.
LEIRIS: I had really no idea that it will cross that line and - unless I did - that it will travel over the world. And I - it's crazy.
MCEVERS: And then you started - the response you - I mean people wrote you letters. They sent you cards. They sent you money. Is that right?
LEIRIS: Yes, but money is not on my bank because words are enough.
MCEVERS: Oh, yes.
LEIRIS: So (laughter)...
MCEVERS: So another thing that happened to you was at your son's daycare, all the mothers arranged for you to have home-cooked meals every day. Everyone - they had a schedule where each day you would pick up your home-cooked meal. And it's this amazing selection of soups. Do you remember all the different kinds of soup?
LEIRIS: It's impossible to remember.
LEIRIS: But, yeah, they were very impressive.
MCEVERS: Yeah, I was like - but squash, spinach...
MCEVERS: ...Carrot soup and then one with lamb and all these just delicious-sounding soups. But your son, Melvil - he didn't really like the soup. Is that right?
LEIRIS: Yeah, but it's my fault. It really - it's my fault because, you know, I'm not a good cook. And you know, when you have a child, you just want to be perfect parents. And then when he's there, you just have to be OK parents. And, you know, the difference between perfect and OK for me then was the cooking, you know? We were not great cooks, so he is used to supermarket food.
LEIRIS: But you know, I didn't have the courage to say to her that he didn't eat the food. So when I go back to kindergarten, they ask me, oh, did he like the soup? And, ah, yes, of course, he like it so much. And you know, I didn't have the courage.
LEIRIS: But really I know that I'm an awful guy.
LEIRIS: But he - you know...
MCEVERS: Because you poured the soup down the drain. You like dumped the soup...
MCEVERS: But so here's the thing. Now you've written about this. They're going to know. They're going to find out...
MCEVERS: ...That you didn't eat the soup.
LEIRIS: But I hope that they will read the end of the chapter about the fact that we have taken the love that was inside the food and the love that they put making the food. And that was important. And we just didn't like the soup, and I'm sorry for that.
MCEVERS: (Laughter) After you wrote the Facebook post, you kept on writing. I mean it wasn't just that post.
MCEVERS: Did you know you were writing a book?
LEIRIS: No, at the first time, it was just about writing.
LEIRIS: It was only for that moment because I didn't want to escape my reality. And so when I was writing, it was like breathing freely.
MCEVERS: So on the one hand, you - you know, you wrote this post that went so viral about, you won't have my hate. And it's this sort of triumphant and heroic thing. But there are other parts of this book where you write things like, you know, I might drown.
MCEVERS: Obviously this was a time of ups and downs. How did you get through the downs?
LEIRIS: (Crying) By time - by giving time to time, I think.
LEIRIS: And - I don't know. I could say to you that, you know, I just look at my son's eyes and think, oh, I have to get through it. But it's not true. When I'm down, I'm down. Yeah, perhaps when you - when you aren't so down, you have to accept it because if you pretend that you are not down, you will go deeper and deeper. And so the important was to accept it, yeah. And then after a few moments and few hours, sometimes few days, you are up again.
MCEVERS: How old is Melvil now?
LEIRIS: Two years and four months.
MCEVERS: How's he doing?
LEIRIS: He's a very nice little boy who like stories and music and to go to the park. And we have so much fun together.
MCEVERS: Does he ask about his mother?
LEIRIS: When he will, I will keep it between him and me.
MCEVERS: Fair enough. Antoine Leiris, thank you so much.
LEIRIS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SHAPIRO: Antoine Leiris wrote the new book "You Will Not Have My Hate." It's out now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.